Lockdowns across the nation vary in their application and severity. From state to state, city to city, public officials are grappling with how to slow the spread of COVID-19.
There are curious anomalies in the edicts. Many small businesses have been shut down – unless of course your business sells liquor or pot. The businesses that can stay open are often required to police social distancing and face coverings despite not having the authority to handle dissent. Hundreds of shoppers can browse through Home Depot, Costco and Walmart, but 75 people cannot gather in church to pray.
Rock the Flock
Depending on your state, churches continue to be closed. Others are opening attendance but with constrictive requirements that keeps attendance very small.
The long tradition of gathering together to break bread, to fellowship and to encourage one another has been thwarted by COVID-19 and authorities who believe they are protecting their citizens.
Some churches already had a robust online presence with a multi-campus production buoyed by professional cameras and both streaming and on-demand capabilities. But tens of thousands of other churches were not ready and solely rely on the in-person fellowship, teaching, and singing that have united the body for two thousand years.
People of faith generally understand the authority of government and willingly follow the rules and ordinances of society, even if they are onerous.
Pastor Larry Renoe of Waterstone Church in Littleton, CO said this to his congregation. “In obedience to Romans 13-14, our posture is to follow government guidelines and not try to flout the system. We will be submissive until we are directed to deny faith or cover the gospel.”
He uses Acts 5 to illustrate his point. The local leaders told Peter to “Stop preaching.” The Rock didn’t follow the order, instead obeying God rather than man. But Renoe argues that current government mandates don’t go that far. “This is not the persecution of Christianity…(rather) to take health precautions for the greater good of society.”
Andy Stanley of Northpoint Ministries has already made the announcement that the congregations in his network of churches will remain closed until 2021.
“I’m absolutely confident that the church and our local churches will not only survive this, but I think ultimately we’re going to thrive as a result,” said Stanley.
The church isn’t a building — until it is
Of course, we can preach and talk and share from anywhere. It just feels different – very different.
At first, I thought it was kind of fun to set on my easy chair, feet up, coffee in my hand watching the performers on the small screen speak and sing to me. We even ordered Denny’s Grand Slams to coincide with our virtual church service one Sunday. But the elements of fellowship, the communal gathering, and warmth of others is missing.
Zoom is proving to be a poor substitute for church. Watching a sermon on TV isn’t the same as being fed. An email “to the body” isn’t encouraging one another.
It is for this very reason the writer of Hebrews wrote “do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
When will it end?
This can’t go on forever. As the virus marches on, it’s obvious that people’s patience is wearing thin. Outbursts have increased along with outbreaks. Shouting matches are common-place as masked combatants square off against the freedom flaunters.
As Americans, we have proven that we are willing to give up our rights for an emergency – but not for long. “Freedom” runs deep in our beings.
And the flock is growing restless. Some churches are starting to revolt, believing the biblical command to meet together outweighs the government mandate.
Thousands of California churches threatened to reopen, openly defiant of Gov. Newsom’s closure orders. He later relented.
According to the Barna Research group, more than half of pastors (56 percent) polled say their church is already open, while 23% hope to reopen soon, while 18 percent are waiting for later in the year 3 percent holding out hope for next year.
Pastors face a difficult job as they have to weigh the concerns of their congregations. Think about the extremes – and our churches will have a slice of all of them.
1) I am hungry for fellowship and will trust God for protection vs. I’m a loner, so I don’t really care
2) The science tells us not to gather in large groups vs. The science isn’t settled
3) We must follow the laws of the land vs. We must follow the laws of God
It’s not easy. I pray for our political and spiritual leaders.
Let my people go – to church
While I applaud the researchers who hover over beakers and compounds, looking for a cure, the truth of the matter is that they will be too late as millions more lives will be impacted.
Too many want to talk about the current crisis in strictly medical or political terms. And you’ve heard all sides. But this plague that has swept our land might be more of a spiritual nature. Maybe like Pharoah, we as a people just aren’t getting the message. With every wave of disease, pestilence, riots, and discord we’ve faced this year, we have another chance to turn, to fall to our knees and cry out.
The Moses of our time might just be spiritual leaders, who need to call the nation to repentance. And Governors and mayors should encourage people of faith to gather in creative, safe ways. They should ask the spiritual people to give guidance and peace to our nation.
Unfortunately, too many of our political leaders have, calling church “nonessential” in the middle of a national, worldwide crisis. Instead, they should be embracing thoughtful, deep leadership by God’s people through this period.
Listen to the science, yes. But maybe as a nation, we should give God a try because what we are doing on our own isn’t working.